Leehey: Wrongfully arrested


Courtesy photo: Sleeper Cell/Flickr

The case of mistaken identity in“The Big Lebowski” bears similarities to Leehey’s story: The Dude: “Nobody calls me Lebowski. You got the wrong guy. I’m the Dude, man.” Blond Treehorn Thug: “Your name’s Lebowski, Lebowski.”

Cameron Leehey

On Saturday, March 26, I was arrested for a crime I did not commit.

Late in the evening, Ames police arrived at my apartment with a warrant for my arrest on the grounds of Nuisance Party Violation. They did not ask permission to enter, nor did I give it, but they walked right into my apartment the moment I opened the door.

My arresting officers informed me that the party they claimed I had hosted had been dispersed by an Officer Rivera around 11:40 p.m. Friday, Jan. 28. They claimed that I resided on Stanton Avenue, the location of the nuisance party, even as they were arresting me inside my apartment on Hunt Street.  As I was being cuffed and taken to the Story County jail in Nevada, I had absolutely no idea how this was happening to me, but I knew I was innocent and I knew I could prove it.

I later found out that when Rivera dispersed the party in question, two people clearing out stereo equipment provided the name of the party’s host; not my name, but a similar sounding one. The police then called the property managers, discovering that a person with a name similar to mine had been evicted from the apartment where the party had been held, but had never turned in his key.

Rather than asking for a spelling clarification or a social security number — both of which the property managers could easily have provided — the police simply typed the name they heard into a database and came up with me.

In other words, the Ames police made absolutely no attempt to verify the identity of the person they sought to arrest, even though the information to do so was right at their fingertips.

The first thought that ran through my mind as I was being hauled off to jail was that I had a paper due Monday morning, and I was relying on being able to write it Sunday.

Fortunately, I have some amazing friends, and they came to Nevada and bailed me out immediately. Thanks to them, I was able to turn in my paper on time. I am also lucky to have a lawyer in the family, which is likely the only reason the Nuisance Party Violation charge was dismissed.

But what if the Ames police had wrongfully arrested someone with fewer resources than I? My arresting officers did not speak to me as though I were a defendant; despite the fact that neither of them had been present for the dispersal of the party, both of them kept using phrases such as “you were there,” and “the party you hosted.” My guilt had been presumed, and yet there was not a shred of evidence against me.

Even when the police were presented with an irrefutable alibi for my whereabouts at the time this nuisance party was held, they maintained that I must have hosted it. Finally, a county prosecutor made the verifications the police should have made in the first place, discovering that it was not my name on the Stanton apartment lease but some other person’s with a similar name.

It is absurd enough that I was forced to prove my innocence because the Ames police presumed my guilt, but the fact that I had to do so because of their sloppy procedure is disturbing. How many other people will be wrongfully arrested, I wonder, before the police officers of Ames are forced to actually collect evidence against the accused before dragging them off to Nevada?